Dakar Rally Day 8 ended up dispelling a few myths in the car race on the day. But the overall race remained tense as second man Sebastian Loeb continued to hunt leader Nasser Al Attiyah down. Daniel Sanders meanwhile reclaimed the overall bike lead with a dominant performance on the road to Wadi Ad Dawasir.
If anyone was concerned about the new petrol-electric Dakar Audi RS Q e-Tron’s lack of speed, that was officially dispelled on Monday’s complex 396 km run. Rookie crew Mattias Ekström and Emil Bergkvist put one over Mister Dakar, 14-time winner Stéphane Peterhansel and Edouard Boulanger in an emphatic maiden Audi 1-2. Teammates Carlos Sainz Sr. and Lukas Cruz were fourth. Third overall by over two minutes, Sebastien Loeb and Fabian Lurquin’s BRX Hunter was more likely the main focus of attention on the day.
All eyes were on Loeb and Lurquin, because they took more than seven minutes out of Nasser Al Attiyah and Matthieu Baumel’s Gazoo Toyota Hilux’s overall car lead. They now sit under 38 minutes adrift. Attiyah suffered a differential issue and a puncture on the day. That said, the wily Qatari can be said to be preserving his Hilux. To stave the french multiple World Rally Champion off when he needs to, later in the week. Loeb is on the other hand eking all he can out of his Hunter, to close the gap. Still, Attiyah came home outside the day’s top ten.
That left Henk Lategan and Brett Cummings as the best of the factory Gazoo Hiluxes in fifth. Teammates Giniel de Villiers and Denis Murphy were ninth and consistent Shameer Variawa and Danie Stassen 12th. De Villiers and Murphy climbed two places overall to seventh overall and still have a realistic shot at a podium, with four full days of desert racing still to come. Variawa and Stassen meanwhile climbed to 13th overall, one place ahead of Brian Baragwanath and Leonard Cremer’s Century. They ended outside Monday’s top 20.
All-South African Century Racing trio, Ernest Roberts and Henry Kohne were provisionally 39th, and Schalk Burger and Henk Janse van Vuuren 52nd. But Chris Visser and Rodney Burke’s splendid run inside the top 20 came to an end with the crew still racing deep in the stage, having lost 3 hours at the time of writing. SA-born navigator Taye Perry ended 15th reading notes in Dakar bike legend Cyril Despres’ Peugeot. And Ryan Bland sat 43rd with Daniel Schroder in their SA-built Red-Lined VK 50.
There was once again drama before the bike stage even started. Botswana’s triple South African Cross Country champion Ross Branch opted not to further risk his Friday leg injury and joined Daniel Sanders and Skyler Howes in retirement before the start. Ross was just starting to warm up, having ended second by just two seconds to MotoGP refugee sensation on Thursday, before crashing hard on Friday. He rejoined on Sunday but decided to put discretion ahead of valour Tuesday morning.
If Sunday was difficult for bikers Sam Sunderland and Mattias Walkner, they certainly made good on Monday. Taking advantage of their 27th and 23rd starting positions, Sunderland’s Gas Gas led all the way. Walkner moved his KTM into second at 200 km, only for Pablo Quintanilla’s Honda to pip him at the post. Ricky Brabec’s Honda was fourth from KTM duo, rookie privateer Mason Klein and Toby Price. So, Sunderland re-took the overall lead from Walkner, former leader Adrian van Beveren’s Yamaha and Quintanilla.
SA riders, Bradley Cox’s KTM was 16th and second in rookie Moto 2, and Aron Mare’s Hero 21st. Mare sits 17th overall, Cox 18th. SA rookie Charan Moore was 44th overall and fifth in the no-service Original class, Botswana's John Kelly 47th and 7th in Original. They provisionally respectively lie fourth and seventh in Original. Fellow ‘Malle Moto’ men, Stuart Gregory was 86th and Werner Kennedy 114th overall. Swaziland’s Walter Terblanche was running 91st on Monday, Mozambican Paulo Oliveira 115th.
In the other Dakar classes, Overall leader Alex Giroud fought Marcelo Medeiros off for the quad win with Pablo Copetti third. The lightweights were still racing as we wrote, with Goczal brothers Marek and Michel fighting it out for Side by Side honours with overall leader Austin Jones in pursuit. Seth Quintero was battling Pavel Lebedev in the prototypes with overall leader Francisco Contardo keeping a watching brief. And Kamaz four, overall leader Sotnikov, Karginov Shibalov and Nikolaiev were in control of the trucks.
Tuesday's mountainous eighth stage is a shortish 287km dash around Wadi Ad Dawasir. The two-week 4,000 km two-week Dakar Rally across the Saudi Arabian Desert finishes in Jeddah on Friday.